Monday 18 November 2019

Ben Foden relishes ‘underdogs’ tag against Ulster

Duncan Bech

BEN Foden has warned Ulster that Northampton are ready to defy expectations as they seek to reignite their Heineken Cup ambitions.

Saints dropped to third in Pool Four after being thumped 25-6 at Franklin's Gardens by last season's beaten finalists seven days ago and must prevail in the return fixture at Ravenhill if they to have any hope of progressing.

Runaway RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Ulster enter tomorrow's showdown on the back of 13 successive wins and are unbeaten at home in Europe since 2008.

The odds are heavily stacked against Saints staying in the hunt for qualification, but England full-back Foden insists they tend to thrive when written off.

"Losing to Ulster stung so much because we were at home and conceded four tries," said Foden.

"The performance let us down, as individuals and as a team. There is no finger pointing, we sat down and took the blame as a team, and we know we have to make things better.

"It is a big ask to go to Ravenhill and beat an undefeated side but for us it is about pride and getting back on track.

"A lot of people will write us off, which is probably a good thing, but we are at our most dangerous when teams take us for granted. We will be looking to put in a big performance at Ravenhill.

"We did not play as well as Ulster as a team and obviously we will bridge that gap if we perform to our potential."

Saints are missing captain Dylan Hartley after the England hooker received a two-week ban for striking Ulster front row Rory Best last Friday.

Ulster, who are hoping to reach the quarter-finals for a third successive year, have lost skipper Johann Muller to a fractured arm so Ireland openside Chris Henry leads the team.

Defending champions Leinster face a pivotal match in their bid to become the first team to win a third consecutive Heineken Cup crown when they host Clermont at Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

A 15-12 defeat at Stade Marcel Michelin last week has left them second in Pool Five, five points adrift of the French heavyweights, and coach Joe Schmidt doubts a bonus-point win is likely.

"It is difficult enough to beat Clermont, let alone start chasing points that are very difficult to get," Schmidt said.

Leinster have been strengthened by the return of prop Heinke van der Merwe, hooker Richardt Strauss and scrum-half Eoin Reddan.

Clermont scrum-half Morgan Parra still retains bitter memories of his side's 24-8 rout by the three-time champions at the same stage of the 2010/11 Heineken Cup.

"We've played this double-header once already. After conceding a defensive bonus point at home we went to Dublin with good intentions before exploding," he said.

"We don't want to relive that experience. We'll need to show that we've made some progress."

Leicester restore centre Anthony Allen, wingers Niall Morris and Adam Thompstone, prop Dan Cole, lock Louis Deacon and flanker Brett Deacon to their starting line-up against Benetton Treviso.

The Tigers require a bonus-point victory against the Italians if they are to eat into the three-point advantage Toulouse have at the summit of Pool Two.

Unbeaten Harlequins' procession into the quarter-finals is unlikely to be delayed when they host Pool Three basement club Zebre at The Twickenham Stoop with England pair Chris Robshaw and Ugo Monye returning.

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